Morality Dilemma

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Last week, David Brooks of The New York Times wrote a column on an academic study concerning the nearly complete lack of a moral vocabulary among most American young people. Below are some excerpts from Brooks’ summary of the study of Americans aged 18 to 23. (It was led by “the eminent Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith.”)

“Smith and company asked about the young people’s moral lives, and the results are depressing …

“When asked to describe a moral dilemma they had faced, two-thirds of the young people either couldn’t answer the question or described problems that are not moral at all …

“Moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner …

“The default position, which most of them came back to again and again, is that moral choices are just a matter of individual taste …

“As one put it, ‘I mean, I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it. But different people feel different ways, so I couldn’t speak on behalf of anyone else as to what’s right and wrong …

“Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it’s thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart.”

Ever since I attended college, I have been convinced that either “studies” confirm what common sense suggests or that they are mistaken. I realized this when I was presented with study after study showing that boys and girls were not inherently different from one another, and they acted differently only because of sexist upbringings.

This latest study cited by David Brooks confirms what conservatives have known for a generation: Moral standards have been replaced by feelings. Of course, those on the left believe this only when a writer at a major liberal newspaper cites an “eminent sociologist.”

What is disconcerting about Brooks’ piece is that nowhere in what is an important column does he mention the reason for this disturbing trend — namely, secularism.

The intellectual class and the left still believe that secularism is an unalloyed blessing.

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  • Larry

    And yet we let them vote, and their is a push to lower the voting age even further.

    Young people tend to make all their decisions based on how the action is going to make them feel. Unless they are given an externally set framework on how to make decisions they will continue to do so. 30 years ago they were achieving decisional maturity at about 24-26, now with the increasing infantilisation of their education and home environments that is pushing out to 30.

  • Flipside

    If William Kristol and Stephen Colbert made a baby and let it bore people to tears on NewsHour, it would be, in fact, it is David Brooks. What a useless political commentator. Now he’s toeing the John Silber line in morality? What a welterweight blowhard.

  • Paul B.

    Would like to know why my comment here was deleted. I can't imagine anything offensive about it.

  • JoC

    This is one of many reasons I am proud to send my daughter to a Catholic school. At least I know she will learn about God & our faith and pray everyday.

  • 13Sisters76

    How sad for those for whom man is the highest standard- this leads to nothing but disappointment.
    And how sorry the rest of us are who allow adolescents to make their own decisions based on their "feelings".The quality of those decisions, made by a still developing brain, will always be in question.

  • Guest

    This dumbing down of society both moraly and intellectual will continue. It is much easier to lead a stupid group with simply "feel good" slogans than to actually try to address real life hard to deal with problems. We are bringing ourselves down to the lowest common denominator.

  • StephenD

    It all comes down to what C.S. Lewis talked about. He summed it up in stating that "people need to be reminded rather than instructed…." He spoke of everyone knowing deep down the golden rule; do unto others as we'd have done to us. There are what he called “Cardinal Virtues” which everyone knows of to be moral must include; Prudence (Common Sense), Temperance (Moderation), Justice (Fair play, Keeping Promises, honesty, etc.) and Courage (in danger and sticking to it when it's tough).
    The problem comes he says in ACTING “just” or “temperate” rather than BEING a Just and Temperate person. Big difference and this is why we need to be reminded of the Moral Rules from time to time.

  • nodoz99

    One thing that Dennis Prager left out is a history of how "feelings" and listening to one's heart have really developed out of the Protestantism of Calvin and Luther. Both advocated for a very individual and personal relationship with God. By doing so each contributed to the devolution of the discipline of moral reasoning. Moral reasoning can exist without God. That is not the problem. I suggest that it is the lack of ability and lack of training in addressing moral reasoning (e.g., coming up with foundational principles–as did Kant) that is the problem, not the lack of Christianity–esp. that of the evangelical sort, which trully focuses on a personal (in your own heart) relationship with God. I am by no means ruling out some of the real benefits of religion in general, but the emphasis should really be on training in moral reasoning not just belief.